The 2021-2022 school year has been hard so far. Last year was a challenge that I embraced from the very beginning, jumping full into the pool with two feet. This year, fatigue has set in … for me and for my students. The fall felt somber, challenging, and forced.
My students have to take a diagnostic test called iReady 3 times a year. To help support their learning outside of class and to support additional growth with math they are expected to work on the iReady lessons for about 45 minutes a week. I know that when they were 7th graders a lot of my students struggled with this requirement. A current grade 8 student, (Willoughby) had started a petition against iReady lessons as the last school year drew to a close. Determined to set a positive stage, I talked with a colleague this summer at length about how to increase student motivation for this platform, held a brainstorming conversation with my students, and made a plan.
We came up with some things:
- Students would work toward a classroom competition goal. Algebra against Algebra and Math 8 against Math 8. After 5 weeks we’d have a party for the winning class in each category.
- An individual goal was also at play – a treat for every 3 one hundred scores in a row, or for 4 scores over 85% or for every 5 over passing.
- A sticker chart on the wall to help keep track and brighten things up – big emojis for 100s, masked emojis for 85+ and a star for 70+ (passing by iReady standards).
- An option to have the assignment each week or to “binge” it and do it across a 5 week spread. *some students did pick the 2nd option, but the platform reporting makes it hard to maintain this over time. Additionally, not many 8th graders were able to manage the complexity, so I dropped the option after the first 5 weeks.
- Some kids jumped two feet in and crushed it – many worked much harder than without any incentives.
- Some kids ignored it all together. The incentives didn’t matter to them and/or the platform was unpleasant for them.
- Most kids hit the middle ground – happy to have a treat when it arrived their way, but behavior wasn’t drastically changed due to what we did.
Outside the Box – Enter Mr. Bread
The way I set this up was through a Jamboard that the kids could fill out. They circled their goal for the week and then they reflected on whether they had reached the goal when they turned it in.
I shared with them that my students last year had a lot of fun with Jamboard individual and group assignments creating their own fun end page to add some levity to my life and theirs. Evey took me up on this fun idea and started to submit weekly “Adventures of Mr. Bread” as part of her iReady submissions. I asked her early on if she would be comfortable with Mr. Bread having a featured post. She responded, “Sure” so now he gets to make his debut. Below is a Google Slides presentation that shows Mr. Bread from weeks 1 through the end of our iReady Adventures. I’ll get to that next … but first, enjoy Mr. Bread’s journeys.
Circle back to the challenge of the year. Mr. Bread has been a bright spot – for me and for Evey. For Evey, it was a way to trick herself into looking forward (or at least embracing with a fuller heart) a challenge that wasn’t something she was super jazzed to do each week. For me, it provided a laugh in my hours of looking through student time spent and results scored. For both of us, it offered a digital connection. This connection is something that helped support growth in the in-person classroom. A conversation started digitally could continue in person and go back to digital and so on.
Our iReady lessons ended
In our first 15 weeks of school, iReady was only actually assigned 8 times. We had a few weeks to get situated and take our first diagnostic and then our lessons started. We had a gap for Thanksgiving and then I didn’t ever plan to assign the week before our winter break. All in the expectation for kids was just 6:00 of time if they took the “guided tour” or 45 minutes each week. My students’ times ranged from 0 minutes to 15 hours and 51 minutes. I have 64 students on this platform. The average time spent was 6:25. My Algebra students did an entire mini-project with our data – they used our statistics to reinforce their knowledge of skewed data, median, mean, practice box plots, and more. One of my students completed all the lessons left in the iReady platform in the 8 weeks we had and several others were close. I had two students who didn’t participate at all. Most passed almost every lesson they tried. Some were able to use iReady as a tool to help them learn to focus (the lessons are 20-40 minutes and students learned the discipline to put their phone on silent or airplane mode to allow full focus).
Ultimately we decided as a school to stop the lessons for many reasons. I agree with them all – too many digital platforms, the stress created instead of the joy of learning, and more.
When I shared the school’s decision in Willoughby’s class there was cheering and high-fiving. I smiled. I was proud of him because he had shared an opinion and started a movement. I was even more proud that while he felt passionate about this, he respected me, the situation, and school expectations. He demonstrated that by completing his iReady with a full heart (in fact he logged over 3 hours more than the minimum requirement).
Sphere of Influence and Final Thoughts
- As I wrap up this post, I think about all the things we are all required to do that we don’t really WANT to do. I’m proud of Evey for finding a fun way to engage with things to trick herself into having fun. I’m pleased that it provided both of us with some weekly smiles.
- I’m proud of Willoughby for demonstrating initiative and also for accepting that our school had his best interest at heart (filling in learning gaps) and leanding in and doing the work.
- I’m proud of my many students who went above and beyond expectations for this platform and “skewed the data” for us. The truth is that in this pandemic we all have gaps in all subjects. Those that embraced this platform for the time we used it had some of these gaps filled in. I am also proud of kids learning to manage their own distractions. This is essential to success in high school and the workplace and more.
I hope you have enjoyed Evey’s Mr. Bread Adventures and all my thoughts to go with his journey!